A study analyzed data collected from 123 adults of varying ages and came to the conclusion that as compared to those who consume fiction through TV shows and films, those who read books were more empathetic.
What is the first image that comes to your mind when someone tells you that a person is a bookworm? Someone huddled over a book and sitting in a far quiet corner of the room. Someone who'd rather ditch plans of going out and sit at home on a Friday night with a new book they picked up at the store that morning. A loner and introvert. Essentially, a nerd, as many of us have conveniently categorized them. However, a study claims that people who read a lot of books are more empathetic and sociable than those who prefer watching TV.
A study conducted by Kingston University postgraduate research student Rose Turner revealed that literature lovers are nicer and more empathetic than their TV-watching counterparts. Turner came to this conclusion after studying data from 123 adults of various ages who participated in an online survey. The subjects were asked to specify their preferred categories in books, television shows, and plays and were also tested on their interpersonal skills. These tests focused on how much the subject took into consideration the feelings of those around them and how inclined they were to help others.
Turner's study revealed that the readers in the mix displayed more empathy and awareness for those around them when compared to those who preferred watching TV. Speaking about her research, she said, "Reading is a universal pastime and we regularly hear about parents being encouraged to read to their children from a young age to help introduce them to language and develop their vocabulary. This study demonstrates that the different ways that people engage with fiction can impact their emotional intelligence and empathic behaviors."
When asked about why there was this disparity between those who consumed fiction via books and those who consume it through other forms of media like television and film, Turner explained that the individual experience of reading a book makes people think about the characters on a deeper level. "When we read we go by what is simply written on the page and we have to fill in the gaps as we go along, giving us a chance to develop empathic skills as we try to understand what a character is going through. Whereas when we watch something, we are provided with a lot of that information already," she said.
Turner's findings tie in perfectly with a 2006 study which linked reading fiction to better performance on empathy and social acumen tests, as compared to those who read non-fiction. Keith Oatley, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Toronto and one of the five members of the research team, previously spoke to Washington Post about this phenomenon. "When we read about other people, we can imagine ourselves into their position and we can imagine it's like being that person. That enables us to better understand people, better cooperate with them," he said.
In their study, Oatley and his co-authors wrote: While frequent readers are often stereotyped as socially awkward, this may only be true of non-fiction readers and not readers of fiction. Comprehending characters in a narrative fiction appears to parallel the comprehension of peers in the actual world, while the comprehension of expository non-fiction shares no such parallels. Frequent fiction readers may thus bolster or maintain their social abilities unlike frequent readers of non-fiction.
Oatley claimed reading is akin to being in a flight simulator. "You experience a lot of situations in a short span of time. Really, all art is a metaphor. When we read, we become Anna Karenina or Harry Potter... We understand them from the inside. Because we're extremely social we have to understand other people, and the whole of culture is based on this," he said. Without doing that you can't cooperate. And this is pretty much the center of what it means to be human," he said.